Monday, October 22, 2007

I like where that capo is going

Not terribly long ago I went to a Rocky Votolato show at the Troubadour out in West Hollywood. He was on tour to promote his new album The Brag and Cuss. After streaming the album for free on Barsuk’s website I decided to grab a $12 ticket.

The set was raw and organic yet sweet to the palette. His sandblasted voice drips with passionate intent. The only slight annoyance throughout the show was some guy standing just in front of me who repeatedly requested the same song during every break in the set list. By the end of the show I could have punched him, and with his last comment of “I like where that capo is going” I could only hope that Rocky was about to play the song (at the very least to make the guy shut up).

He closed with the song I had heard so heatedly requested throughout the entire show. When he first started picking at the strings of the guitar it was as if the roof of the Troub had opened up and the stars were shining in time. Quiet yet distinct the song took flight, then was grounded again with the introduction of that sandblasted yet gentle voice and some phenomenal lyrics…..

“I am a prisoner in the sunlight
You are my cellmate in the darkness
There’s a box full of mix tapes with titles you came up with

They can show us where we came from but not how to get back there
Listening to the songs can’t heal my broken fingers
It’s just weight for the anchor to keep your ship here”

And then the harmonica cracks a wail that echoes the melancholy howl of a sad hound dog abandoned by its master and you can't help but get lost in the reflective story of the song.

The album on which the song appears (Suicide Medicine) became a part of my collection upon my next Amoeba shopping run and if I was only a half hearted Rocky Votolato fan upon entering the show, I was a full convert after the purchase of the album.


Mix Tapes/Cellmates - Rocky Votolato

Thursday, July 5, 2007

R.I.P Hy Zaret

On July 3, 2007 the Tin Pan Alley lyricist who penned the words to “Unchained Melody,” one of the most frequently recorded songs of the 20th century, died at age 99 (just a month shy of his 100th birthday). Written in 1955 for a low-budget prison film titled “Unchained,” it brought Zaret and Alex North, the composer, an Academy Award nomination for best song.

The song was recorded by artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Lena Horne, U2, Guy Lombardo, Vito & the Salutations, Joni Mitchell and (my personal favorite) the Righteous Brothers. In all, the song has been recorded more than 300 times, according to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. ASCAP listed it in 1999 as one of the 25 most-performed musical works of the 20th century.

Hy Zaret’s works ranged from jingles to songs about science to ballads of love and war. Mr. Zaret liked to recall the time the composer Alex North called him to say he had written a song for a movie and needed words. Mr. Zaret replied that he was busy painting his house, but found the time to write the lyrics for “Unchained Melody.” Zaret refused the producer’s request to work the word “unchained” into the lyrics, instead writing to express the feelings of a lover who has “hungered for your touch a long, lonely time.”

This is one of those songs that always made me stop and get lost in a moment. The lyrics accompanied by the haunting quality of the music still gives me goosebumps to this day. NPR did a wonderful piece on the death of Mr. Zaret stringing together pieces of all the different recordings of the song. The version done by the Righteous Brothers stuck out for me, but perhaps you were first touched by a different version. Either way, I am grateful to Mr. Zaret for creating such an indelible piece of music. May he rest in peace.

AP News Wire: Entertainment
New York Times: Arts

Unchained Melody - The Righteous Brothers

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Getting into the swing

Is there any better opening lyric to a song than “I’d rather dance with you than talk with you”? Well, I’m sure someone would argue that point with me, but one has to admit that it is quite clever. And I love how that opening line just stands on it’s own for a few bars before the song carries on, like the moment you take after a big relaxing inhale just before you let the air out of your lungs. The tone this opening line sets for the rest of the song is that of the ‘not-so-coy flirtation.’ It captures the idea of letting go of words and allowing uninhibited movement to express feelings and desires. Words only complicate things, why bother with them when you can “let your hips do the talking.”

The music video for the song is also one of the sweetest videos I’ve ever seen. I love how it shows dancing as a carefree expression of happiness. It is so refreshing in a world where it is too easy to get caught up in the serious demands of responsible adult life.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A writer's philosophy

Driving home late on a Sunday evening, Ray LaMontagne’s album Trouble is keeping me company. The song Burn comes on and I find myself unable to let it blend into the sounds of the road and the engine and the world passing by at 73 mph.

Ain't it clear when I'm near you
I'm just dying to hear you
Calling my name one more time
Oh so don't pay no mind
To my watering eyes
Must be something in the air
That I'm breathing
Yes'n I try to ignore
All this blood on the floor
It's just this heart on my sleeve that's a bleeding

A conversation that I had with a friend a few days earlier comes to mind. She said it was part of the curse of my compassion that I wear my heart on my sleeve and it sometimes gets trampled on. I love Ray LaMontagne’s voice, it is like melted chocolate or edible velvet. I have no idea where those comparisons come from, but his voice just feels like something you can taste.

There is so much passion and emotion in each song. I love it when you can hear soul of the artist in the songs they write and perform. LaMontagne has said “I always, always end up recording the songs that I feel are important for me to work through.” To me that sounds more like the philosophy of a writer than that of a performer. This is a philosophy I appreciate much more than the artist who writes a catchy hook and meaningless lyrics and performs a song to death for pure commercial exploit. This is not to say that I don’t appreciate the performers and catchy hooks, but there just seems to be so much more substance to something that speaks to the soul.

Burn - Ray LaMontagne

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Waiting for the next marker

I’ve discovered over the years that I have used music as markers to map out moments and phases in my life. Some albums, artists, or songs will be tied forever to memories of places and events as well as change and growth. I suppose this is a common practice really, but I’d like to think that with the abundance of music out in the world now, choosing these markers is much more of a personal experience that it was in the day of my parents. I mean, Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, they were giants and could be tied to an exponentially larger audience than most of my music collection (I would like to assume). Just by the sheer availability of music as a product to be consumed, it is so much easier for our generation to soundtrack our lives: carrying iPods to and from class, CD players in cars, burning CDs to exchange with friends, downloading, cell phone ring tones. Music can now be virtually everywhere and anywhere we choose to take it.

Of the artists that I have chosen for my personal soundtrack, few have been around through multiple phases as a constant in my auditory biography. One of these very few is Tori Amos. In Jr. High it was Little Earthquakes. The controlled anger that seems to drive “Precious Things,” the severity of “Me and a Gun,” the epic never-ending feeling of Little Earthquakes governed those tumultuous years as I went to my first funeral and realized I had more goals than the average 13 year old. In High School it was Under the Pink and From the Choirgirl Hotel. “Pretty Good Year” was the soundtrack to my 2 mile drive to school and “Cornflake Girl” with the

windows down and a sly eyebrow up on the drive home. “Jackie’s Strength” became my favorite song for break-ups and break downs while “Iieee” and “Spark” absorbed my discomfort in my home and the little rebellion I could muster. Venus made the occasional appearance in High School as well and provided the opportunity for my first Tori concert. Scarlet’s Walk and The Beekeeper inhabited the years of College. Scarlet channeled my journey of 3000 miles to New England and Beekeeper saw me restlessly returning to California.

With the announcement of her new album I can only expect the perfect soundtrack to another chapter. I have no idea why it is that her albums seem to coordinate so well with the path of my life. All I can say is it’s nice to have company along the way.